Who could blame anyone for thinking that the path to a house in the country is littered with failed offers, poor choice and a long wait? More than a few who sold up in London earlier in the year will find their goal of being settled by Christmas diminishing fast. But as Penny Jackson discovers, there are also those for whom a move out of town has been a brilliant decision.

Tales of woe from those who have been house-hunting for years can sound like a catalogue of frustration. It would all be much easier if buyers did not have their hearts set on the same kinds of property. But there are only so many Georgian rectories in nice villages, and the chances are their owners are staying put - if only because they themselves find the alternatives in depressingly short supply. Nevertheless, there are those who manage to move out of town without being reduced to panic.

One couple who abandoned south London for Gloucestershire in the summer had seen enough friends tearing down the motorway to view yet another unsuitable house, to know what course to take.

They are letting their Balham house while renting in the country. "For at least a year and a half we are going to relax and enjoy living here," says Hugo Jackson, an investment broker. "We couldn't face the prospect of house-hunting from London. And this way we can find out which villages we like best. We are able to rent this house for three years, and if we still haven't found the house we want, we will rent again."

Even though Hugo and his wife Serena have no regrets , they do have the comfort of knowing that if it doesn't work out - and commuting does take its toll - they still have their London home. One rent pays for the other and they have no worries about having realised their capital in a rising market.

Not that they are unaware of the difficulties of finding their ideal house. They are not alone in wanting somewhere within 20 minutes of school and station or of wanting a Cotswold stone farmhouse.

"We already know of 12 or 14 sets of parents in the school looking for exactly the same thing," says Hugo. However, Serena, who is still enjoying the novelty of so much space for their three sons, has confidence in the power of networking in the playground.

"So many houses never even come on to the market", she says. "Once we took the plunge it wasn't as difficult to move as we feared. It feels like home because we have our furniture and we are not under pressure to buy. I can see how demoralising that would be."

During the past couple of years, reluctant renters have not only brought landlords some unexpectedly good returns, they have even learned to enjoy being tenants. "Upwards of pounds 2,000 a month buys quality of life without repair liabilities," says Andrew Brown, of Clegg Kennedy Drew, a firm of estate agents. "We have one family who, rather than sell their family home, are letting it out and renting a larger one while their children are young."

Other tenants hope, quite often against the odds, that the house they are renting will eventually come up for sale. "Requests for first refusal are quite common", he says.

As prices in London reached a peak in the spring, so the temptation to sell and move out proved irresistible to many who already had vague plans in mind. "They arrived in Hampshire, guns blazing," recalls Tim Garne, of Hamptons International.

"Even those with cash found it harder than they imagined. It seemed worth it to them to pay well over the odds to secure a house."

Most people, even though in the pounds 350,000 to pounds 450,000 bracket, have to compromise. "Some might go for the right house but in a different area, while others will move into a modern box and wait for more houses to come on to the market. Plenty have been renting for two years longer than they had planned, but often they are stuck because of schools," says Mr Garne. "There is a danger that their capital will be whittled away if they wait too long."

Christine Martin and her husband decided within a couple of days to sell and go. "When we found that our Ealing house had risen in value in a matter of months we thought we would be foolish to wait. We were out within eight weeks and renting. The fact that we did it on the spur of the moment was exciting rather than nerve-wracking."

The Martins narrowed their choice to Northamptonshire - right school, good rail links and reasonable value for money. Even so, they did not get the 200-year-old house of their dreams. "We would still be waiting now, like many couples we know. As it is, we have a good size house with great potential. So many of the houses we saw were over-developed."

Clearly the longer buyers wait, the harder it is to compromise. In Cirencester, Rupert Barrington of John D. Wood has some clients who have been waiting for five years for property with land. Houses for sale with 10 or 15 acres are few and far between.

When they do come up, it is not uncommon to find someone has paid handsomely to take it out of the market. A 10 per cent premium may well not be enough. Frustrated purchasers have taken the place of disgruntled vendors these days. Those who have taken to dropping on their estate agent at least weekly expect some rewards. But clients not favoured by the phone call can feel aggrieved. "We now refuse to tip anyone off and mail details to everyone at the same time. It seems fairer all round", says Mr Barrington.